I've been thinking a lot recently about compromise when it comes to negotiation.
In negotiation-speak the phrase 'win-win' is often used as the sought after outcome of a negotiation. So where does compromise come into it when compromising can often feel like giving in?
Certainly, when I was much younger compromise felt like win-lose, with me on the losing side. I hated compromising because it felt as though I was conceding and the other person would be triumphant that I had ‘caved in’.
What happened to me then (and what happens to a lot of people in many kinds of negotiating arenas) is that I held on to my position because it felt like life or death (even negotiating what to do over the weekend). It’s as if compromising not only meant giving in over this one thing, but it also was an indication that I was a pushover, that everything I believed was up for grabs.
It doesn’t make any rational sense but back then, when negotiating, my rational side often disappeared and in its place, a fight to the death. I look back and cringe at some of the situations where I ‘held my ground’ because it felt as though my very being was being attacked when I differed with someone during a negotiation. I hid it very well, but inside I felt my sense of self was on the line when I compromised.
How wrong could I have been?
It wasn't till I became older (and wiser) that I began looking on compromise not only as a terrific bargaining chip but also as the manifestation of empathy. The more I empathised with the other 'side', the more I was able to see his or her point of view; the more I was able to see the other point of view, the more I was able to understand what would help them feel heard and acknowledged.
The more the other person felt heard and acknowledged, the more they would be willing to meet half-way. Conceding was no longer about losing but far more about bridge-building.
I was no longer buffeted by irrational beliefs but liberated because I became a much better negotiator the more I was willing to give stuff away.
Negotiating isn’t about getting my own way, but is about building relationships so that everyone feels good about the interaction.
This shift in attitude really does make life easier. I go into negotiations with a much lighter heart, no longer feeling threatened or attacked if what I think I want isn’t going to happen. I’ve talked about this before in previous negotiation blogs about changing my want. So instead of hanging onto what I thought was my bottom line and focusing all my attention on getting it, I now am willing to change what I want often to something intangible like both of us just feeling like we had a good conversation and not necessarily arriving at a conclusion.
Compromising means it all doesn’t have to happen right now just the way I pictured it. I can change the picture if it means I don’t have to get into a fight.
Let me take up the image of bridge-building. Bridge-building is about making an offer rather than demanding a concession from the other person. I’ve used this analogy before but it bears repeating: if I put a plank down or even two or three planks, then the other person inevitably will put a plank down and this can carry on till you meet in the middle of the bridge and both still feel good about carrying on communicating.
Each time you consciously and deliberately compromise you are laying down a plank and the more planks you put in place, the easier it is for the other person to offer a plank and to make the bridge stronger.
Think of compromise as an art, a skill, a tool, rather than something that takes an emotional toll (as I used to think and feel) – it’s a much easier way to get to win-win.